Monday, September 05, 2011

Reality or Truth?

Yesterday, I went to the filming of a reality TV show that my daughter, Bridget, was invited to join.  The show is entitled "Everyday Health Heroes" and it seems to be part of a franchise called "Everyday Health" on ABC Network.  Here's the casting call for the Heroes show.

It was an interesting peek behind the curtain for these "reality" shows.  The concept behind this show is apparently real life examples of people doing constructive things to improve health.  The "stars" are a young male and female couple who were winners on the Survivor Show.  This particular episode involved each of the two stars recruiting some high school soccer players to compete in a tournament to raise funds for AIDS.  The organization that the show served to promote was Grassroots Soccer, whose tagline is Educate, inspire, mobilize, stop the spread of HIV and the tournament involved hundreds of soccer players as a fundraising event.

Bridget's travel team was recruited by the female lead and they had to pretend at a practice that she had just stumbled upon them.  The male lead was also recruiting a boys team.  The girls on the team would get some vague instructions on a scene and then they would play their parts.  Similar kinds of scenes were filmed at the tournament, with multiple takes when somebody didn't get a line right or they were drowned out by ambient noise.  In the end, it all went very well, the game was close and vigorously played by both sides.  The girls won the game with the help of a professional soccer player with the DC United soccer team who seemed to be their ringer.

I have to say that I cannot stand to watch reality TV.  I've always considered those programs idiotic and forced.  I would ask myself why people would even participate?  Fame, I guess.  But having a close up view has softened my opinion.  As it happens, while I was sitting in the stands waiting for the game to begin, I was reading a review in the Sunday New York Times Book section of the book, Believing is Seeing, by Errol Morris.  The review by Kathryn Schulz discussed the morality of photography, particularly the implications when a photographer alters a scene in order to make it depict some "truth" that may not be apparent if he or she just snapped the picture.  The example used is a photograph by 19th century photographer Roger Fenton of a scene from the Crimean War.  There are actually two shots, one with cannonballs in the middle of the road, one with the cannon balls more obscurely lying in the gutters to the side of the road.  Apparently, the photographer moved the cannonballs onto the road to make for a more dramatic shot. Purists might complain that he had altered reality.  The conclusion of both the book and the reviewer was that providing a more vivid description of the war through more visible cannonballs was appropriate in service to the larger truth about war.   So, "staging" the picture was deemed morally sound.

It occurred to me that what I was witnessing was very analogous.  Notwithstanding my abhorrence for reality TV, the goals of this program was to promote health and celebrate people giving of themselves for the benefit of others.  So, "staging" this program, which had the outward trappings of a documentary, was entirely appropriate.

So, I think it was a highly laudable undertaking, whether or not my daughter was involved.

The program is scheduled to air in early November. Watch this space for more specific scheduling information.

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